7 hallmarks of effective remote working

Remote working is often cited as a panacea for everything from work-life balance and staff retention to urban planning and the global environment, but it’s still very much in the minority.

Most remote workers are self-employed, perform roles which occur offsite or only do so infrequently, so why is it that remote working has not taken off in the way that its promoters would expect and what can be done to improve the situation.

For employees, the benefits of homeworking are obvious, more time with the family, less time commuting and the ability to plan out your own working day give you more control and let you match your own daily energy cycles, maximising productivity.

For companies, increase productivity compared with desk-based teams,  staff stickiness and a reduction in required seat space are obvious benefits.

Keller Williams Ireland, who offer shared services and an office-based hub for independent estate agents, was originally set up around a centralised office hub, where agents would operate when not out at viewings.

However, the company quickly found that its remote agents were more effective and happier so is now promoting the benefits of remote working, especially as Keller Williams agents cover a wide geographical area.

So what’s stopping more companies adopting the practice and giving more employees the chance to work from home? And why has Keller Williams found the practice so beneficial?

Overcoming the barriers to remote working

Research in the US, where more than 16% of with workforce work remotely, identified 7 key barriers to successful remote working at an organisational level.

Task specific

Firstly, remote working doesn’t suit every role. Where social interaction and collaboration are key, especially where coaching and development of staff are involved, being centrally located is more beneficial.

Obviously, onsite and travelling roles are very suited to remote working, as do repetitive and simple IT tasks, where cloud-based communications make location irrelevant. 

In Keller Williams case, Agents tend to work from home, whereas management and administration and more effective when centrally located as problems can be solved easier when everyone is in the same place.

Trust and accountability

One of the major barriers to remote working is the legacy command and control culture and ( oddly) emphasising personal accountability, especially within hierarchies. Managers are expected to know what’s going on in their departments and how people are performing, and that’s just easier when you can physically see your team and what they are up to. 

Even extensive use of performance monitoring such as keystroke loggers and decentralised call centre software has its limits, and we’ve all been guilty of believing others are “gaming the system”, which leads to a nagging sense of doubt.

Culture plays a major role in resolving this issue (more on this below), but combining realties trust in your team coupled with effective performance management and accountability are essential. 

Building trust is not easy and it’s a very personal thing, meaning we need to know our team personally and have experienced their integrity before we can fully trust them.

In this case, a progressive move towards remote working, whether following a period of office-based work or splitting time between work and home can demonstrate integrity and honesty allowing trust to be developed and a level of comfort attained. 

The other side is accountability, which again, suits some businesses more than others. Task-based roles work well with high levels of automated metrics which are visible on a hierarchical level.

Call centres are obvious examples of this, where call volumes, duration, outcomes etc. can be seen on a personal, team or organisation-wide level, simplifying accountability and performance management.

The other option is outcome-based pay scales, such as piecework or self-employment, but whilst these are effective in terms of focussing effort and minimising risk, they bring their own problems, and, are as valid for office-based staff. 

Culture

A lot has been written about Culture, with one researcher calculating that there were over 6,000 different definitions of what culture really is!

In simple terms, however, it’s a set of shared beliefs and rules we all follow. We don’t need to be told stealing is wrong, it’s embedded in our moral code from birth. 

This is why culture is so important to trust and management. You don’t need to closely supervise someone who thinks and acts the way you do.

Having a culture of customer satisfaction across the organisation leads to peer acceptance of certain behaviours and rejection of others, minimising the need for explicit rules and regulations and allowing greater autonomy for their teams. 

Keller Williams is built on its culture and strives to reinforce its culture across those who operate under its umbrella. Most of these are fundamental, seeking a win-win solution and putting the customer first being obvious examples, but recognising that others have a valid voice and that we succeed through others show a deeper commitment to collective success, which is essential in building trust. 

What’s important, however, is demonstrating culture throughout the organisation.

Culture is not driven by slogans and posters on the wall, but by the behaviours and stories we experience every day. Everyone has to be mindful of how their actions reflect the culture that you’re trying to build.

And everyone needs to be accountable for actions which breach the cultural norms, no matter where they sit in the organisation.

Effective cloud systems

Cloud based systems have long been touted as the future of modern working, but still, the vast majority of users prefer the simplicity and convenience of desk-based utilities.

Modern high-speed broadband has definitely improved the stability of the systems, but was has really brought cloud-based systems is the ability to perform complex workflows across diverse browser-based systems.

CRM’s like Salesforce and Zoho allow a unified approach to communications, integrating email, social media and VoIP into a single portal improving both visibility of consumer interaction with performance management metrics, simplifying tasks, record keeping and management.

And this is becoming the norm with a host of specialist applications being created to meet the needs of verticals, from healthcare to finance to marketing. 

Keller Williams’ Command infrastructure offers a cloud-based environment capable of performing, automating and simplifying most of the back-office functions needed for estate agency from managing listings and contact databases through to creating and automating emails and social media campaigns and the commercial and financial management of a complex business.

More importantly, these tools can be accessed by staff wherever they are, with both desktop, tablet and mobile versions.

Integrations sit at the heart of the capabilities and functionalities allowing listings to be automatically updated on third party property marketplaces and external accounting packages to be linked and social media campaigns scheduled and posted over linked social media accounts. 

This level of integration also boosts the richness of the recorded data, giving, for example, clear indications not only of how many people opened an email campaign but also who.

Role Specific

There are certain roles than lend themselves to being remote, and some that don’t. Everyone wants to be able to avoid the morning commute, but that doesn’t mean their role can be done remotely.

For estate agents, a remote location makes total sense, most of the interaction is either remote, via phone, online or email, or face to face in the property being sold, so having an office is both expensive and unnecessary.

Wide range of technical knowledge

Unless a role is very specific and narrow, it’s likely that an independent worker will need to fulfil additional tasks which are more generalised, as external support is not available.

Agents with Keller Williams manage their own marketing, listings and financial management for example, as specialist support is centralised. 

The agent needs to both understand what’s required, but also why, as this will aid in motivation and help the agent to operate outside of the ordinary.  

This requires three things

  1. A clear understanding of the importance of the task. What’s the value of the task to the agent and the company
  2. Effective training in the use of any systems involved and the fundamentals underpinning them.
  3. Reinforcement from others that the tasks are effective and worth spending time on.

Loneliness and social isolation.

People are naturally gregarious, so people can become isolated and feel lonely. They can also feel out of the loop, especially if they feel office-based staff are treated better than remote workers. Obviously, regular meeting in the office or social events are a key to any team-building process, particularly for a dispersed organisation, but there are other ways.

Creating virtual teams or giving remote workers an office-based sponsor/mentor, can help to alleviate the sense of isolation, but, as remote staff are often more senior, why not do as Keller Williams does and have remote staff mentor junior staff. 

Not only does this ensure that knowledge is retained within the organisation and ensure that remote staff feel involved in the long term future of the business, but it also reinforces that remote working is a benefit to be earned.

Remote working effectively.

Working from home can be a great way to motivate and improve the performance of staff, but it takes a lot of thought and effort to get right. 

Having the right culture across the company goes a long way to building the trust and work practices needed to work effectively away from your peers.

A sense of community and inclusion is also needed to ensure staff don’t feel isolated. 

Finally, careful job design, effective and connected tools are needed to make sure that team members can work autonomously away from centralised support resources.

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You Don’t need a CRM!

Consulting

Does your CRM drive your business or react to it?

Well, that’s not exactly true, CRM ( Customer Relationship Management) software is a useful tool that allows you to centralise your records, manage processes and create a series of analytical and operational reports which let you know what’s going on in your business.

However, they are expensive to set up and to manage and require input and maintenance all of which use significant resources. In one company I met recently, as much as 25% of sales reps usable time was spent just preparing detailed forecasts. So, want to know how you can increase sales by 33%? Get salespeople selling not proving to you they are selling.

The rather flippant title outlines a fundamental truth that must be any the forefront of the decision to purchase and the design and management of the CRM, which is that you need to focus on what your business needs and remember that the CRM is just a tool to deliver on those needs.

  • You need to have a single point of truth for your customer records
  • You need a clear set of processes so each staff member knows what to do to deliver a consistent experience for the customer
  • You need to monitor your teams as a way of measuring and comparing their performance
  • You need the ability to forward plan and see what your pipeline of sales is going to be into the future to let you take corrective action before it becomes an issue.
  • You need a way to track the conversion of inputs to outputs ( leads generated vs leads qualified for example)
  • You need the ability to analyse your customer base and understand differences between customers won and lost, retained and won back.

The design of the CRM has to be able to deliver on these key fundamental business needs in a way which ensures minimal use of resources both in terms of investment and operationally. There is no point putting a system in place that will generate a 10% productivity improvement if you lose 20% of your time keeping it up to date.

Design your CRM around your work

It also has to be usable and simple. No matter how great the database structure, process management and reporting suites of the CRM are, they are useless if they aren’t kept up to date, so build with use in mind. A classic example is field structures. You frequently come across lead records with large numbers of empty fields or where required fields stop reps from entering data, but there is no future use of the data that is supposed to be collected.

If the data collected is not reported on or required for a downstream process, there is no value in collecting it. The usual argument is “we might find a need for it in the future” well, you won’t! If you feel there is value in the information, prove that there is value in collecting the information before you spend time and resources collecting what will prove to be an incomplete data set.

Consider the culture of the business. If it’s action-oriented rather than administration, adding a CRM is not going to change that, you need to decide whether a) a CRM is the best approach, b) whether you need to incentivise usage to modify behaviour c) invest in admin resources to let salespeople sell and still maintain the integrity of the business.

The key thing to remember that, even with “free” CRM’s like Zoho and Hubspot, there is a significant investment to be made in the rollout and management of a CRM, and it is essential that your business drives the design and use of the CRM not the other way round.

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Relationship and content marketing are the real game-changers for real estate.

content written

With the rising cost of leads and reduced conversions rates, lead generation is becoming more expensive and less sustainable than ever. But with long sales cycles and limited opportunity for repeat business, is content marketing the alternative?

Real estate is, by its very nature, transactional.

We buy homes so rarely, that we don’t get to know our agents and have little need to remain in contact with them from sale-to-sale.

From the agent’s perspective, therefore, the focus is two-fold. Firstly, getting leads and winning listings and secondly getting as many people into view a property to guarantee that sufficient numbers are willing to bid to get the house. 

The rate-determining steps are therefore lead generation and conversion rates. Mosts leads are still sourced from lead lists either purchased or created through outbound email or coldcalling.

Some agencies such as Castles in Dublin have been very successful with personalised leaflet drops and flyers, leveraging their strength in their target markets and brand awareness in discrete territories.

However, both of these routes are time-consuming and expensive.

Are search and social the answer?

Search and social media advertising is less common, accounting for about 22% of all lead creation, However, targeting at a local level is difficult and produces variable results. General keywords are competitive and expensive. CPC rates around €5 and conversion rates below 2% mean each lead’s costing over €100. 

Either way, each of your leads is going to cost between €50 and €100, and if you factor it conversion rates of less than 5%, that’s giving a cost per sale between €1-2000, which, in the face of declining prices and commissions is not sustainable, especially in Ireland for example, where commissions are down to 1.5%. 

No wonder then that many agents are looking in different directions for their business, but what are the options?

Relationship marketing for estate agents

relationships

Many successful agents are taking a leaf out of the corporate sales book, realising that the two key advantages of the referral are trust and expertise.

The fact that someone we know to be independent has had a positive experience pushes up the trust learning curve with a referral allowing us to reach the point at which we are willing to work with a company much faster than if we approached them cold. 

It also means that we know that the referred contact has expertise which is relevant to us through the discussions with our trusted third party.

Content marketing

Agencies are starting to recognise that content marketing and marketing automation allows them to get over the hurdles caused by long gaps between sales by creating relationship opportunities which will ultimately lead into listings or sales in a more cost-effective manner. 

This means the creation of online communities of individuals who opt in to receiving your communications and are prepared to engage with the content you create.

This is important because recognising that the content needs to be what the audience wants to hear, not what the writer wants to say is a key concept for effective content marketing. No-one wants to be bombarded just with new listing messages!

The platform is important too.

Social media offers a great opportunity to broaden the audience base, but it’s very low engagement, whereas email subscriber bases will be smaller and more difficult to build but will be substantially more engaged.

Stepping into content

Depending on how committed you are to content management and your ROI timeline, you can create deeper and deeper levels of relationships.

That’s the key to success, realising that you’re not selling houses in your marketing, you’re selling relationships. Your audience needs to buy into you before they will buy what you are selling.

The Marketing Funnel

For the company shifting from a transactional to a relational selling model this is the simplest step, as it allows you to start to build a content marketing funnel without losing sight of the importance of a call to action leading to a specific endpoint. 

This approach centres on providing content which is relevant and interesting to the audience, but retains some focus on the sales process. The rule of thumb is that 80% of the content should be pure content and 20% sales focussed. 

This can mean retaining a call to action on all mails or focussing some mails or posts on the process or competitive advantages of the product. The key is the mix. More obvious calls to action or a sales approach will push some people down the funnel faster but are likely to disengage a lot of people. 

Content marketing

Companies coming from a softer, marketing-led background or who have found their funnel approach plateauing, tone down the overt sales pitch in favour of a greater focus on content which builds authority and trust with the potential for messages to be shared. 

This is the more traditional social media approach and leads to greater engagement and lower dropouts, forming a strong and growing audience.

video Content marketing

Sales messages are downplayed considerably so it takes a bit of a leap of faith coupled with strong marketing skills to create what is essentially going to become a strong source of high-quality leads, akin to those generated from referrals. 

One example of this is the 33 touch campaign run by Keller Williams companies.

In Ireland, this involves a 2 strand approach, developing the agent’s reputation for both professional and local knowledge, tapping into the audience need for estate agents that they can trust both to know the area intimately and be both professionally competent and successful.

Audiences are split by region of interest and receive two communications per month, one focussing on the area ( best restaurants, relevant news stories etc) and the other a market report detailing new listings, price movements and general commentary. 

Selling and listing call to actions are conspicuously absent.

The upshot of this is open rates in the late 20’s and virtually no unsubscribers, leading to a growing audience. Listing enquiries naturally fall out of the process, but there is no push.

From an agent’s perspective, Keller Williams automated marketing tools are linked to the CRM, making lists and campaign management simple minimising the need for marketing support and letting the agent’s personality shine through. Social media posts can also be scheduled automatically from within the platform. 

Monetising your base

Like Google and Facebook before it, Keller Williams has realised that once it has a loyal audience, it has the potential to offer them a range of products and services outside of the core offering.

The products and services it offers need to be relevant and aligned and obviously provided either internally or via aligned, well-vetted but non-competitive providers.

Keller Williams is able to leverage its global reach and size to negotiate good deals on traditional real estate products like mortgages, home improvement loans and insurance, but also recognises that the transition from one home to the next is only relevant for a small portion of its audience, whereas the others are settled homeowners.

growth business analytics

Plumbing, gardening, home warranty and cheaper utilities are much more relevant to the majority of its base and providing compelling offerings is a great way to both provide stickiness and an ongoing revenue stream. 

This isn’t without its pitfalls, however, as the affinity benefit means that whilst a good experience will act as a halo around the brand, any bad experiences with third parties will also negatively impact, so picking the right partners is essential.

It’s also important to limit the offering and ensure offerings are aligned with the core proposition otherwise you risk diluting the brand.

The revenues from cross-sells are rarely high compared with the core proposition, so it doesn’t make sense to lose sight of your core business.

Servicing your base through data mining.

As it transitions to a technology company, Keller Williams is already planning the next-generation technology utilising AI and hyperlocal content to provide an invaluable real estate tool for consumers and agents alike.

On the consumer side, content is localised to a specific address, giving access to a range of services specific to your home, acting as your home’s personal assistant effectively. 

Want to know what your house is worth now or projected into the future? How about what it would be worth rented on Airbnb or Long term rental? The app gives consumers to create their own landing page, with details on their home, its current value, services in the local area and anything else that the homeowner might need.

content

Partnerships with companies like Nextdoor allow additional features like combining the best features of a Facebook, WhatsApp or Justeat in a local, curated group or provide highly localised and differentiated services.

From the corporate side, datamining and AI allow agents to predict when a consumer is likely to be considering a change, prompting a reach out, for example. 

Content remains at the heart of the offering, as effective adopting requires access to service and content which continues to be relevant and useful to consumers.

The benefits, however, are game-changing.

As the go-to app for all of your homeownership and needs, Keller Williams stands to own the consumer’s interaction with their home, and who do you think will be the first person they think of when it comes to selling their home?

The future is relational, not transactional.

Building strong, long-lasting relationships with potential consumers is the future for real estate and this takes courage, patience and a long term approach.

You need to focus on what you can offer your consumer not what they can deliver for you, it really is a buyers market! However, the rewards are potentially huge.

Not only can first movers capture a large share of voice which can be translated into a cost-effective lead flow, but they have the potential to broaden the revenue base for the company and potentially lead to diversification and derisked revenues long into the future.

The marketing funnel

Relationship and content marketing are the real game-changers for real estate.

Location, location, location…

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Need help getting started? Pre-seed finance for startups.

Looking for funding before you start your business? there are a range of options if you've put the work in

No matter what phase your business is at, you’re probably going to need external funding to help you manage your working capital and investment for growth and there are now many options for seed and series funding aimed at helping your business grow. 

If you’re not already involved in the start-up world, there are three key funding phases.

  1. Seed funding. At this stage, investors are looking at a business which a product or idea which is ready to launch, so has a minimum viable product, clearly defined marketing and sales channels and a properly structured operations plan. Funding can come from angel investors, small VC’s or crowdfunding.
  2. Series funding. This is the growth phase of the business, it’s set up with a strong team in place and is looking to scale it’s market and product portfolio. There may be several funding rounds as the company grows with money coming from VC’s or accelerators in return for equity.
  3. Exit round. Traditionally this was the IPO round, where capital is released from the business through listing on the stock exchange, but this could be an acquisition. 

But what about before you start? 

What is pre-seed funding?

A business takes money and resources to get started before an investor will even look at your business seriously, so where does the money come from to fund this?

Pre-seed funding has traditionally been entrepreneur lead, and 80% of businesses are still set up with funding from their owners, who typically put in around $10k to “bootstrap” their businesses. However, there are other options.

The Pre-seed stage.

As any entrepreneur or small business owner will tell you, the hard work starts long before the business is set up. This is the R+D stage during which you’ll be checking out your idea, researching the market and developing your business model and product prior to the initial launch.

You’ll need to be able to define your market, demonstrate your solution’s unique fit with the markets pain points, identify how you will monetise your business and show a proof-of-concept or minimum viable product.

Where can pre-seed funding come from?

Bootstrapping is still the most common source of finance for new businesses, where the owners use their own capital to provide funding and resources for the growth through its initial stages. 

In many cases, the initial work will be done by the owner in their spare time whilst still in full-time employment, but there are limits and this is high risk, especially if you’re working in a similar field, or for a company that has specific IP or anti-competition clauses in its employment contracts. 

In any event, there will still be a capital requirement if you need to buy stock, secure premises or involve third parties in developing your product.

Friends and family Pre-seed funding

Many owners secure funding from their sphere of influence, utilising friends and families as sources of cash or resources, and this makes a lot of sense, especially if you have contacts with specialist skills or free cash.

However, business and pleasure don’t mix well, so it’s worth treating your circle like external investors. Give them a proper pitch and make sure you have an agreement in place which clearly defines the terms of the arrangement and what both parties expect.

The government

Many local and national governments promote private enterprise and will provide access to grants, loans and support for relevant businesses throughout their development. 

As an example, Ireland is one of the best countries to do business in and is very startup-friendly offering a wide range of supports for potential exporters and employers.

Ireland is a small island nation with a small population and therefore limited domestic demands it needs to build export markets in order to grow economically. 

Start-up support begins at a local level with each council providing resources, training and grants to promote small business creation and growth. Local enterprise offices provide access to micro business loans, feasibility and business expansion grants aimed at creating jobs and economic prosperity in the local area.

For larger businesses, especially those with export potential, Enterprise Ireland provides seed funding and venture capital finance programmes helping business to grow as well as feasibility and collaboration grants and funds, incubator and accelerator support, plus access to a wide range of in-country offices to promote local networking development. 

Once you are set up, support is also available to minimise the cashflow impact of taxation, with relief available for entrepreneurs investing their own capital into a start-up and relief on corporation tax for new start ups.

MicroVC's, Incubators and competitions

growth business analytics

The current low investment environment has shifted investors away from low-risk vehicles like bonds and into higher risk opportunities, but in order to secure higher returns they need to diversify their portfolios away from a reliance on high-value stocks into venture capital.

This influx of funds has created a range of pre-seed options for new businesses more suited to the embryonic stage of a new business. Unlike traditional VC or Banking approaches, application and acceptance can be much easier, but this comes at the expense of either higher equity, lower investment or higher interest rates, reflecting the greater risk to the investor.

Cloudfunding websites like Kickstarter, WeFunder and Fundable let small businesses attract investments from potential fans and customers, delivering both finance and consumer interest.

Pitch competitions give entrepreneurs the chance to fine-tune their pitch before they go into the market, often with capital or a place in an accelerator or incubator as the ultimate prize.

Obviously some VC’s and Angel investor networks also carry pre-seed funds, but these can be difficult to reach and may require an introduction and follow a more rigorous application process.

How to attract funding

No matter what the source or external funding, you can expect the process to be rigorous and competitive. At the very least you will need to have a good pitch and a strong core team and a proof of concept for your product will usually help. 

Most pre-seed investors are not expecting a fully realised business though, so don’t feel you need to boil the ocean, the concept should be enough to attract investors if it’s obvious how it will heal the pain points.

Your business plan needs to focus not on how big you think you will be, but how you will deliver in the short and long term. In product terms that means two things

  1. Be aligned with the customer’s pain points. Pain points are areas crying out for a solution and therefore in high demand from consumers and offering a real competitive advantage. The more benefit you can delver the more the customer will value your product, safeguarding revenue and helping you attract switchers from traditional products
  2. Ease of access. No matter how good your product is, if the customer can’t access it easily, they won’t buy it. Simple marketing, product design and delivery are the hallmarks of the fastest-growing companies from Airbnb to Uber

The longest journey starts with a single step

Most pre-seed funding is designed to get you to the next level, not to IPO, so your business plan needs to focus on what you want to achieve in the next 6-12 months. 

More to the point, business changes so rapidly that what you expect to do in a year’s time may be totally different to what you have to do once you get there. You will develop too and your experience, outlook and skills may well take you off on a different route to get to the ultimate goal. 

Many investors are looking for evidence that you can actually deliver on the expectation, not just sell a great idea, so have a clear roadmap of activity to get you from A to B, let alone Z.

Your vision may be to be the next Stripe, but what do you need to do today, tomorrow and next month in order to get there? Consider each phase carefully, outlining why it’s on your roadmap, how you are going to achieve it, and where you’ll go from there.

Develop authority and awareness

Authority is a key concept in online and offline marketing. It’s a realisation that what you say is credible, reliable and trusted and can have a significant impact on whether your message is received and accepted. 

In digital marketing, Domain authority is the currency of SEO and dictates whether your page is top of the pile or hidden below the fold. In content marketing, it defines whether your articles and blog posts are shared or ignored. 

As you set up your business and look for funding, widespread awareness of the problem you are solving allows you to position a solution much easier. This lets you create hype and interest in the domain before you bring your product to the market, and if done correctly, means you will have created an audience primed for your commercial message in advance of the launch. 

 

Ideas don’t make money, delivery makes money. Investors are looking for a business leader that can see, build and deliver solutions which meet the needs of a large addressable market. They don’t just want to see that you can come up with ideas, they want to know that you can create and implement a coherent and effective plan.

Be the expert

Ideas don’t make money, delivery makes money. Investors are looking for a business leader that can see, build and deliver solutions which meet the needs of a large addressable market. They don’t just want to see that you can come up with ideas, they want to know that you can create and implement a coherent and effective plan.

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Add Your Heading Text Here

Picking the right business model for Estate Agency

Hybrid Estate Agent

Like most businesses, the death knell for Estate Agency was rung by the emergence of online portals which promised to allow the seller to cut out the middle man, with transparency of the transaction through sophisticated online portals, essentially facilitating a DIY approach to real estate sales. 

But did it ring too soon?

Online builds for the future

The online market was touted as the future, and major brokers like emoov and Purplebricks captured market share, especially at the lower end of the scale, being able to offer consistency and low costs through economies of scale.

However, building a new business model, especially one based on huge upfront investment in technology and marketing, is not without its issues as seen by profit warnings from large player like Purplebricks, and the high profile administration of eMoov, who cited cashflow issues even though listings were paid upfront, demonstrate online agencies are struggling to find traction in a largely people-based business.

Purplebricks Accounts for 2018 show marketing spend of £382 per listing on marketing, up 25% on prior year, showing how expensive it can be to build brand awareness and engagement in a business traditionally dominated by high levels of service and personal reputation.

Ultimately, your house is the most expensive transaction you will ever embark on, so trust is essential, and as yet, a large proportion of the public is still not comfortable trusting an online agency with the such a large transaction

Purplebricks is undoubtedly playing the long game, it knows that combining a strong brand awareness with a growing customer business will translate into higher lead flow in the future, so it’s prepared to invest in the short term to reap rewards for the future, but many businesses are not in the same boat, especially the traditional High street agents.

The future for the high street retailer?

With falling prices and lower commissions, high street estate agents are finding revenues declining at a time when costs, especially retail lease prices are climbing at up to 5% per annum, the pinch coming for the high street agents.

The decline of estate agents has been forecast for years, as online businesses with low operating costs drove down the commissions much to the benefit of homeowners, but there was still a strong market on the high street with footfall driving walk-in enquiries and acting as a strong shop window for local listings.

But the economics are changing.

High street footfall is declining, which is leading to lower occupancy rates, as the High street becomes a less attractive retail destination for consumers. At the same time, retail leases are becoming more expensive, with a growth of 5% per annum in lease costs alone.

As the housing market begins to slow, average house prices are dropping at 2.5% per annum, and commissions are dropping closer to 1%, further squeezing the margins for independent estate agents around the country.

The rise of the Hybrid

In the US, hybrid estate agency models, where self-employed agents are supported by third-party shared service providers are the norm, with centralised offices hosting 100+ independent agents offering significantly diluted costs for the selling agent.

Businesses like Keller Williams have recognised that in order for agents to be successful they need to deliver across 4 fronts.

Help agents create a strong personal brand

Keller Williams is not a real estate company, it’s closer to the traditional model of a shared services/BPO provider. This means, that, unlike other franchise or national brands, it’s agents operate as separate entities and brands with Keller Williams providing the support and infrastructure to develop those companies.

This means that the agent’s personal brand is at the forefront. The company encourages each agent to develop and promote this brand to the marketplace, rather than a dry, generic corporate brand. The agent is the focus.

Operate in a low-cost environment

Hybrid estate agency models tend to be based on a centralised facilities model, meaning that fixed costs such as rent, utilities and IT management, key holding etc. are diluted substantially across a much larger agent base, with 30-50 agents bearing a fraction of the total cost of a location. 

Such central locations also offer marketing, IT, Business and Admin support at low costs, as the services can be provided more efficiently and effectively.

Clear focus on relational vs transactional selling

Purplebricks and hybrid estate agent facilitator Keller Williams are obviously focussing on the long term, knowing that the value of businesses is more closely linked to the size of its contact base than it’s immediate transactions.

Focussing on minimising the cost structure takes away the cashflow risk and allows Estate agents to focus as much on building a pipeline for the future, leading to referral and listing business, as marketing existing listings.

A strong scalable technology platform

Technology will become the backbone of the offering going forward, with expert systems and simplified UI delivering efficient management from the initial listing through to sales processing and billing which lets the agent spend more time actually selling and providing service. 

Increased adopting of AI has created new offerings and services, with companies like Nextdoor seeking to own the consumer by providing predictive hyperlocal service offerings tailored to the individual needs of the consumer, based on their user history and location.

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Inbound marketing flavours. Am I a growth hacker or a demand generator?

And does it matter????

As an entrepreneur, the range of inbound marketing approaches can be confusing, but what is the real difference and which one is right for me?

Inbound marketing has a reputation for buzzwords, from Aida to Zeitgeist the marketing world naturally creates niches within itself, replete with its own language and cachet.  

Demand generators look down on lead gen specialists, whereas growth hackers are the new hipsters.

But what really is the difference, and, for small businesses, does it really matter??

The short answer is yes and no. 

Yes, because it’s important to apply the right tools to the right problem.

No, because we have to be able to jump from one mindset to the next as required. 

Inbound marketing has the potential to drive growth faster and at a lower cost than traditional sales activities or outbound marketing, but has become a complex field with lots of subtle flavours.

Growing your business fast requires an understanding of these flavours, and which ones are right for your business now.

Inbound marketing vs outbound marketing

The umbrella term for this is inbound marketing, which is business methodology aimed at attracting the attention of individuals with a level of interest in a particular subject through content and experience that they will value and enjoy.

It’s the opposite of the invasive sales and operations led approaches like spam emails, mass, untreated advertising and cold calling. Tools which are being progressively legislated out of existence.

Inbound marketing puts control in the hands of the consumer, and asks their permission to receive information, whether through explicit opt-in statements or by making consumers actively decide to view the content. 

The first soap operas are a great example of inbound marketing. The messages were clear, “our products are an essential part of the modern domestic lifestyle’, but the media was more subtle and in a form that viewers enjoyed consuming.

Nowadays this has become search marketing, content marketing, social media, all of which require the audience to find and consume the media to receive the message. 

Whilst this may seem an expensive and risky communication strategy, the payoff is much better engagement, offering greater influence and higher conversion.

However, it needs to tie together and have a clear focus on the endpoint of repeat sales, rather than pure brand awareness.

The importance of the inbound marketing funnel.

The inbound marketing funnel is a great tool for two reasons:

  1. It acknowledges that there are different audiences out there with varying degrees of interest and motivation
  2. It recognises that a percentage of these audiences can be motivated to move towards an end goal with the right process

What this means is that we need to link together a series of relevant marketing tools to migrate people through to an endpoint.

We start with educational, informative and engaging content to reinforce interest in a problem attracting a wide audience and gaining their permission to communicate with.  

This is classic demand generation, which raises the profile of the problem, not it’s solutions, placing the need top of mind for consumers, priming the pump and creating the demand.

This leads to more specific, connected and solutions-focused content to guide users to narrow their solution set. 

Finally, relevant and timely content on how our specific product and provider are the solution of choice leads to one to one communication, creating an opportunity to sell.

This level uses valuable calls to action to either create a conversation, or prompt buyer behaviour and is modern lead generation.

The funnel also recognises that the customer has to buy into the process. They need to engage and want to take the relationship further, so marketing becomes more about influence than interruption, asking people to opt-in, rather than trapping them into a relationship. 

This means it needs to be subtle, add value as part of a product and consistent with the company’s ability to deliver on promises made.

Inbound marketing people are engineers

Marketing is complex. It uses a wide range of tools to accomplish different tasks, using well thought out messages to influence its audience in multiple ways. 

Large enterprises and small start-ups have disparate needs, objectives and resources, which also require different skill sets. Growth hacking and Viral marketing emerged from the need for startups to achieve rapid scalable growth with little or no resources and championed the inclusion of marketing in the product itself.

Linkedin’s email upload which allowed you to invite all of your contacts to join Linkedin or Hotmail’s inclusion of a subscription link on each of its users’ emails being obvious examples. 

In this respect, marketing has become like engineering. It’s not about inventing something new each time, but measuring performance and making small iterative improvements using a range of specialist tools. In fact, part of the original definition of growth hacking included the ability to code and create products, not just market them.

So where does that leave me?

As a small business owner looking to expand their marketing activities with limited resources, getting the right strategy is key and should dictate the skills and competencies you want to recruit.

If you have an original, easily amendable product or service with a freemium option and little money, then growth hacking will fit your purpose, as it’s the focus is on creating a viral product, instead of a viral message.

If you struggle to gain traction for your product because the problem it solves is not a high priority, or the solution too complex to explain, demand generation is where you need to look, as you need to raise the profile of the issue and build authority and credibility before you can sell the solution.

If you’re operating in a mature market and looking to build market share, your focus will be on creative positioning and promoting conversations, hence lead generation is the key priority, although you may need to incorporate other approaches to give you an edge.

Even if you’re not in a position to hack your product to make it viral, Growth hacking’s marketing approaches and focus on growth are still worth looking at. It acts as a type of lean marketing which and can drive fast growth and create cut through, so definitely worth a look.

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Location, location, location…

The importance of hyperlocal marketing in local businesses

The Internet is full of people willing to tell you how to leverage globalisation and advertising to create niches giving you a global reach, but for the vast majority of businesses, their customers are more local and time-bound.

With banner blindness growing and voice searches increasing, marketing and sales will become more “hyperlocal”, so it’s time to optimise your marketing to capture the fastest-growing search term – “near me” which are growing by over 250% each year.

What's driving the growth

The general model of marketing suggests that people will identify a need, spend time researching for a solution and then make a choice from a set of product and supplier options. 

However, consumers are becoming less patient and more impetuous. We know what we want and we want it now, and, as we’re searching on our mobiles, we want it here!

Time has become a factor in decision making, and consumers are willing to pay a little more and travel to collect goods, rather than pay for shipping and wait for delivery, which has lead to the growth of “click to collect” delivery option, as people become more time-constrained. Therefore distance to the product has become more relevant. 

This is obviously true for restaurants and events, where the opportunity exists now, as people make snap decisions to eat out or find a different pub or club when out. 

Marketers are now talking about “micro-moments”, opportunities that exist now, but won’t be repeated, so you need to structure your marketing to capture them.

How does this work?

Whether you’re on your phone or desktop, your ISP needs to know where you are, so records your general location, unless you tell it not too, and most people don’t.

When you conduct a local search, for example, “ restaurants near me”, Google prioritises results close to your location and will rank these higher than the more general results. In addition, Google gives the user the option to view locations on a map, making results easier to navigate to. 

Your webpages and site need to be optimised to catch this traffic. If you have a physical location, you need to make sure this is reflected on Google maps. If you’re servicing a specific area, your SEO needs to reflect this.

So how do you go about making your site Local Friendly?

There are lots of obvious ways that you can tag your location, from simply tagging your location on Google maps and setting up a Google MyBusiness Profile to including location-specific code in your Header which will be categorised by search engines to recognise your location.

Obviously, as location-based searches are most relevant to mobile users, making sure your site is mobile friendly is a must.

But, like all websites, optimising the content is by far the most effective tool to make your site hyperlocal.

This means making sure your content is relevant to the area you are targeting and the people who’re living there. Make sure you link to local businesses and reference local events and example. Include local pictures rather than generic stock images, as these are instantly recognisable to local searchers, and familiarity breeds comfort!

See past the organic. Hyperlocal as a brand value

If Estate Agency is all about “location, location, location”, then having a reputation for being the leading agent in that location is obviously going to position you strongly with prospective buyers and sellers.

Castle Estate Agents espouses the Keller Williams touchpoint culture which emphasis nurturing relationships with a discrete audience who are likely to either be in the market for a home in the future or be in a position to influence other potential buyers and sellers.

With a large database of contacts, the company make extensive use of targeted, engaging email content to both keep contact and reinforce the company’s positioning for professionalism and local knowledge within specific geographical regions.

Castle segments its audience based on geographical interest and sends regular emails that provide relevant local content to residents, whether it’s showcasing new or popular restaurants, highlighting upcoming events or discussing matters of local importance such as major planning approvals or infrastructural work.

Buying or selling homes isn’t mentioned once. It’s all focussed on what’s relevant to the audience at a hyperlocal level.

And it’s paid off considerably.

Open rates have more than doubled across the board ( trebled where video content is used!) and unsubscribe rates are non-existent, so the base is growing rapidly and more engaged than before.

This success has migrated down the funnel as well, with listings up more than 55% since the campaign began and an increase in referral business

Location is going to be one of the most important criteria for customer-facing businesses over the next few years, as consumers seek the fastest need fulfilment, so optimising your presence for hyperlocal searches will position your business as the supplier of choice for the local minded consumer.

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Holes not drills

Coaching and mentoring

Customers are looking for solutions not features, so your comms need to talk less about what you do and more about how you solve their problems.

One of my favourite comments about marketing is from Thomas Levitt, who said “People don’t want 1/4″ drills, they want 1/4″ holes”.

What he’s talking about is the importance of understanding why your potential customer is looking for a solution, what motivates them to either seek a solution proactively either online or by visiting your store, or makes them receptive to your call. It also helps to define whether they see value in what you’ve got to offer.

Taking Levitt’s analogy a stage further, we know instinctively that the vast majority of people don’t wake up in the morning with an overriding urge to buy a drill bit ( if you do, then great! more power to you!), what they want to do is hang a picture or put up a shelf and buying a drill is just one solution.

One of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs face when selling is knowing the difference between the features of a product and its application. They feel that the features they’ve developed and the hurdles they’ve overcome have value and this is generally related to how difficult they were to develop or how clever the solution. However, this misses the fundamental reason why people buy things, they want to solve their problems.

Regardless of whether you are B2B or B2C, your potential customers are people.

They wake up in the morning (or in the middle of the night) and have problem they need to solve or an objective they need to reach. How you help them achieve this is your value, your benefit.

This has implications in a number of areas. If affects your communication, your product design and your sales approach.

How easily and completely you deliver the solution is the level of value that you provide, and will define what people think your service is worth, so it is essential that you understand  customer needs and how you can meet them

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Effective Startup marketing – 6 major mistakes and how to avoid them

Effective marketing can be the difference between success or failure for startups, so getting your startup marketing right is essential.

It’s a scary fact that more than 90% of startups fail according to Failory, whether it’s through lack of funding, a product that doesn’t meet expectations or simply because they don’t get the right message out to the right audience.

Proper marketing sits are the heart of these tasks, as it involves understanding your audience’s needs and expectations, communicating on their terms and fulfilling their requirements, whether they are customers or potential investors.

But it’s not all about Google ad words, Instagram feeds or hype, it’s about building a clear picture of how you want your product and company to be seen and interacted with and onto how you actually want to make money from the relationship.

Here are some of the major startup marketing mistakes and how to avoid them.

What am I trying to do?

There are a huge range of tools, techniques, channels and approaches that form part of the marketing toolkit and an equally large number of people that will tell you their approach is the right one.

Effective marketing starts with an understanding of what you are trying to achieve both at a strategic and tactical level. Building a consumer-facing brand requires a very different approach to selling a complex tool to Corporates and a very different expectation of success.

Equally, your objectives today will be very different from those 3 years from now, and there is no point in getting ahead of yourself.

Are you looking to build exposure for your brand or product? Are you ready to promote engagement and create demand for your concept or category? Is a strong lead flow your primary objective as you’re in a competitive space? Is your business transactional or relational?

Clearly identifying your business needs today will let you select the right tools and channels and build an efficient marketing plan.

Who's my audience

All marketing starts with the customer, and if you can’t clearly identify who they are and what they fundamentally need, then you are in trouble!

How do you know whether the product will have a need?

Where do they go for information and what language do they use to discuss their problems?

Who else do I need to influence and in what way?

eLearning

Startup marketing has to be efficient and effective, as you don’t have the time or resources to waste, so you have to say the right things to the right people in the right place a the right time. And you can’t do that if you don’t understand your customer.

Chances are you know the answers already, that’s what drove you’re to set up in the first place, so just make sure you have that picture in your head at all times when planning your marketing content, tools and channels

Don't be a startup marketing magpie!

Startup marketing is an everchanging industry, and obviously one that’s very good at self-promotion! Every company out there wants to be the next Google or Facebook and will bombard you with reasons why their approach is the only approach that you need!

Investors can be as bad. Constantly being asked “why aren’t you on Google ads??”, ” What’s your plan for Instagram?”, “Why aren’t you on Youtube??” can be disheartening and make you question your strategy, but you have to avoid putting the cart before the horse.

Too many companies see using marketing channels as the objective, rather than recognising that they are a tool. They are not the reason you are in business, they are there to help you achieve your own goals.

Magpie managers are always chasing the shiny! They read an article and think “I must do that” instead of thinking about whether it will help you achieve your startup marketing objectives.

Start from the top down. I want to achieve Authority or Awareness, how can I do that? Will Youtube help me to become recognised as an expert or communicate a complex idea? Will Linkedin let me reach my target audience?

Choose the tools that help you achieve your strategy, not the other way round.

Where do I want to take them?

Understanding the customer journey is essential when planning your startup marketing tools and content. This is especially true with social media, which has the potential to create a niche audience for Instagram instead of your brand if not used correctly.

You want to guide your customers through a path that will ultimately lead to them being highly satisfied with your product and service, but they will start from different points on the spectrum.

Many businesses fall into the trap of thinking that they need to sell the features of their product without first selling the need for the product in the first place, which misses the opportunity.

The marketing funnel concept demonstrates that your audiences need to go through distinct steps from awareness to action and many won’t get all the way through.

Putting it simply, you’ll have a lot more people interested in understanding the problem you can solve, than in understanding why you’re is the best solution, giving you the opportunity to build a much bigger potential audience for the future.

The next phase is to understand how to transition people from one stage to the next, and that requires an integrated approach to your marketing and patience.

Building the right brand in the right place

Social media is brilliant for building and spreading influence, but it can be misplaced. Sharing and linking from a personal profile rather than a corporate profile can shift the emphasis from the corporate brand to the personal.

That’s not always a bad thing though, but it does mean you need to be very clear on what brands you want to build and what you want each of them to say.

In the B2B world, Linkedin is very good at building personal profiles, and you can use this to provide different voices to support your brand. What a Sales rep might say will be different from the interests of the Financial or technical teams, and most likely aimed at a different audience.

This lets you communicate different facets of your story and proposition to relevant audiences, building up a more complex and deeper picture.

However, all of this needs to be tied back to a central, corporate profile and preferably one that will let you develop a subscriber base that you control, rather than leaving all that rich data on Facebook’s site! Try to push people to landing pages on your site and offer subscription options to build your own subscriber lists.

Fish where the fish are

If you know who your customers are and what they need, this should be easy. But if not, you need to go back and do a bit of research.

Most sales cycles start with a problem followed by a search for a set of possible solutions, of which, presumably, your product is one. This search will take place in a particular place and using a particular language, which is relevant to the problem.

As an example, a call centre is unlikely to be looking for a new automated phone system which can route calls, as this is only one of a range of solutions, whereas the product is in fact, one of productivity and man-management.

“How can I increase call volumes?” “How can I route calls more efficiently” are more likely to form the search than ” Automated phone system” for example.

Similarly, people looking for professional and technical advice are as likely to search Reddit or Quora as they are to go to Google. Specific sector and competence related sites and groups are also a major source of information and can be a rich source of leads.

And don’t forget, Youtube is the 2nd largest search engine in the world!

You need to know where your customers go for advice and knowledge and make sure you are active in those locations. If you aren’t answering your customer’s questions, you can bet someone else is!

 

And, as Voice is expected to account for over 50% of all searches next year, the idiosyncrasies of the search language are only going to get more critical!

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Effective communications are customer-centric

communication

If you are selling or marketing, your aim is to win the resources of the customer and the most precious commodity is their attention. Good communication is key

Whether you are selling or marketing, your aim is to win the resources of the customer and these days, one of the most precious commodities is their attention.

From lead generation onwards, your most important task is to get the customer to engage with your communications, to give you their attention and as media becomes more fragmented it’s just becoming harder.

Unless you are a commodity, your proposition probably needs to be explained.

If you’re business is set up with a single purpose around a specific problem, it’s easy to explain to someone what you do and why you are relevant, but for most business, its often not clear what the benefit is and there is a tendency for business to focus on the features of the product and assume that the buyer can see why that’s relevant to them.

Buyers don’t have the time to sit and think about what a feature might mean in the context of their business and how this might translate into tangible business improvement that would justify an investment. You have to do that for them.

I do a lot of lead generation on LinkedIn, where you only have 300 characters ( including spaces) to grab the attention of the prospect, so it’s essential to make them instantly see what the value of the product is to them.

Put yourself in the shoes of the prospect and consider how their lives will be better if they buy the product and paint a picture for them.

  • Understand what issues face the industry you are targeting and what the trends are
  • Understand how your product benefits the target company and collect any tangible supporting evidence you can find
  • Understand who owns that benefit, who might have an objective that requires the benefit to be delivered.

If they are passive customers you need to ensure that your outbound communications get straight to the point

Communicate context, solution and include a call to action that lets you retain control. “x is a major issue for Irish companies, but by doing Y, we can deliver a 50% improvement in X, would you be free for a call to discuss?”

If the customer is active and searching, then chances are they are searching on the internet, so it’s important to remember that they are likely to research from the perspective of the problem, so ensure that your keywords cover the problem set, not just the solution, and that your communications are written with the keywords in mind.

Consider what questions you would ask if you have the same problem. If your computer fails, you don’t search for data recovery services, you are more likely to be searching based on what the symptoms are.

Remember, whether B2B or B2C all consumers are time poor, so anything that you can do that simplifies their research and decision making is going to increase your chances of delivering leads and sales

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